Going out on top

This post is an excerpt from Collins’s book The Next Hour. In this section, he explains why he decided to give up flying at age 74–on his own terms. In the debate about aging pilots, Collins’s unique perspective is a valuable contribution. The complete book is available from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. –Ed.

When we say that it is up to the pilot to decide whether or not he feels like flying, that relates to physical and mental well-being as well as to age. When do we get too old to fly?

I have flown with and had complete knowledge of pilots from the age of 17 to 74. That would be just one pilot, me. It was an interesting airplane ride and, as of this writing, I still have a valid medical certificate. I could go out and fly six approaches, do some navigating, and fly holding patterns and I would be current for instrument flying. In fact, I did reserve an airplane and instructor to go out and do that but then canceled that and reserved an airplane and instructor for a future trip. Then I didn’t fly the trip.

Why stop?

I didn’t fly enough over the last year of flying to feel really comfortable with IFR flying. The last IFR in IMC trip that I flew went well and that is the way I wanted to leave it.

That trip, flown in a Columbia (now Cessna Corvalis) 400 was from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Asheville, North Carolina, and return. The weather was good for the trip to Asheville, but for the return a front was coming up on the route. I started off at 11,000, usually too high for me without oxygen but I didn’t have the apparatus to deal with the built-in oxygen system and the air was smooth at that altitude.

Cessna Corvalis
A great final flight–the Cessna Corvalis.

When the clouds built up over 11,000, it didn’t matter. Without oxygen, I couldn’t go higher to stay on top so I descended to a more breathable 7,000 feet. The cumulus clouds were congested and there was no way to avoid poking through them almost continuously. The ride was rough, with things moving about in the cabin occasionally, but the Garmin GFC700 autopilot was doing a fine job of flying and the 400 is quite a good ride in turbulence.

From afar I could see on the Nexrad some showers building near Hagerstown and as I got closer it was clear that the GPS approach to runway 9 would be through a rain squall. No lightning was displayed. The ride was, well, squally, but no worse than it had been en route. I was out of the squall before I got to the airport and the landing was in a strong crosswind, which is something else the 400 does quite well.

By the time I taxied in, the squall was upon the airport. The wind was probably 30 or 35 knots and when I parked the airplane in front of Rider Jet Center I faced a moment of truth. I had to open that big gull wing door in all that rain and wind. Then I had to get out onto the wing which had a little no-skid and a lot of water on it. Then I had to get my gear out of the cabin and onto the wing. Then I had to get down off the wing without busting my butt. Then I had to collect my stuff off the wing. No point in running for the door because I was already wet.

The next thing I decided was that I’m getting too old for such and would plan future trips only on clear days. No more rain squalls. I did that a few times and then, on 7/15/2008, I flew a clear day round trip to Batavia, Ohio, home of Sporty’s. When I got home, I informed myself that this was a good time to stop flying as pilot in command. I had always said that I would make that decision after the completion of a well-flown trip and this one, in the 400, met that requirement.

One reason for me to stop with satisfaction was that limiting flights to good weather took all the challenge and fun out of my flying. To me, dealing with inclement weather in light airplanes is one of the most interesting things that a pilot can do. If not done correctly it can be lethal but done correctly it is fascinating and rewarding. Poking around the innards of a weather system will teach you things about weather that you simply can’t learn anywhere else.

The downside to weather flying is that it is something that has to be done on a regular basis if the knowledge and proficiency to minimize risk is to be maintained. In my busiest years working for Flying, I flew 500-600 hours a year. That was for about seven years. Then I dropped below 500 a year but stayed above 300 for a long time. That was all good but when I dropped below 100 hours a year I lost the feeling that I was immersed in weather flying and that was the spell that flying had on me. Doing battle with the elements did the same thing for me that aerobatic flying does for some pilots, or that just flying around on pretty days does for others.

I felt like my reflexes and thought processes were as good as ever but my glasses were getting thicker and it took some accommodation to see everything that I needed to see. My vision was 20-15 for years and that was what I was used to. I could still hop in and out of airplanes with some ease so the creaky joints were not a big factor.

Radar map
Doing battle with Mother Nature is the most rewarding part of flying for Collins.

Another consideration was my father’s experience. He flew a few months past his 75th birthday, flying a Piper PA-40 Arapaho that belonged to Piper and that he used in his role as a consultant to that company. (The airplane was certified but only a few were built and none were sold to the general public.) One day, after landing, he inadvertently retracted the landing gear. I didn’t want to end that way so I thought I would stop flying a few months earlier than he did.

I was always interested in how I became more conservative the longer I flew. Except for perhaps the first year or so, I never did reckless or foolish things in airplanes. From age 40 to 50 I flew a lot, my weather knowledge was at its peak, and flying was something that I did easily and naturally. As I morphed into my 60s and 70s I didn’t fly as much and could feel things slipping slowly away.

The last time I thought through this I was interested in the fact that younger pilots have more to lose but older pilots, who have less time left to lose, tend to be more conservative. In my case, though, it was the lower level of activity that caused me to back off.

One trip stands out in relation to age. It was on my 51st birthday, in my P210, from Huntington, West Virginia, to Trenton, New Jersey.

There was an active front along the way and a terrific tailwind was available in the high teens but the air there was so rough that I descended down out of the wildest of the shear turbulence. Night fell soon after I started.

The airplane still had a Cessna autopilot (I later got an S-Tec) that didn’t work so I had to hand fly all the way. The turbulence was still substantial and it was a pretty tough two and a half hours with over an hour and a half of it in bumpy clouds.

As I flew along I wondered if I was getting too old for this. I convinced myself that I wasn’t and that it was a perfectly normal thing for me to do. I was hand flying at night, over mountains most of the way, and the airplane was lurching along in bumpy clouds. There was nothing there that I hadn’t done many times before and wouldn’t do in the future but, faced with the same flight 15 years later, I would have probably gone to the Holiday Inn in Huntington and flown home the next day.

Only about 12,500 pilots in the United States have current medical certificates after they are 75 years old. I am one of them. That doesn’t define anything other than the fact that those pilots are lucky to be able to still fly if they want to. Good genes, too. Thanks Pop.

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73 Comments

  • Richard –

    My reasons also … When I reach the point in time that I did feel that I was flying enough IFR, my gut said to enjoying the memories of flying.

    May the holidays bring only joy and pleasure for you and your loved ones.

    Your Friend of YEARS,
    Jim

  • Richard,

    I thank you for your frank discussion, and for the many years you contributed to the joy and safety of General Aviation. I hope you will continue to write or lecture, or find another avenue to inspire and educate the next generation.

    I just turned 69 and am having to reassess my personal minimums. My mentor, Milan Haven, was still rated as a Lear co-pilot at 92. I am not going to press that, but I have a couple of years of flight in me, and will hopefully be able to adhere to the lessons learned from your books and videos.

    Thank you, and Merry Christmas,

    Marc Santacroce

  • Richard,
    I’ll add my thanks for all your contributions to general aviation; you taught me a lot about aviation weather through your articles and books. I resumed flying after a long dry spell in 2005, deciding firmly that I would be a fair-weather fun flyer. A 1946 Aeronca Chief was my choice, and it has done everything I asked of it– teaching me how to fly a kite (806 lb empty), and land a tailwheel (a work in progress). Clearly, I am not as sharp as I used to be, but I believe safe enough for my short solo outings. Just as I self-evaluate before every flight, I am very aware that the end is in sight for my ability to fly safely. My hope is to fly at least another 5 years, but if not, I’ll sell the plane, and be very grateful for the years I did have.

  • Richard…Having just passed the check ride for my Private, at age 71 1/2, I’m looking forward to at least a few years of flying before I hang up my headset. Physically and mentally, I haven’t had much of a downhill slide yet.

    Having had 26 hours in a 7AC back in the late 50’s, I could immediately see the difference in my perception of how to handle situations when I began flying again this past spring. Back then, on the grass strip at 39N, I’d often be flying in conditions that had everyone else sitting in the single, small “lounge”. Now, I find myself closely monitoring weather and other conditions before I even think of flying.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your articles over this past student period, and have sought out many, as well. Please keep your knowledge flowing to the community.

    Thanks, and have a great Christmas
    John Haley

  • Richard, Thank you for your many good articles,which I have enjoyed.I’m 80 & enjoy the short flights around S39 in the Ercoupe. However like you there’s now joy in bouncing around the sky.Before each flight I self examine my statis health & mental wise. Hope you can still find the pleasure in good weather flying that we all enjoy so much.
    Merry Christmas Bob Daly

  • Richard, thank you for everything. While it’s an unpredictable career, it’s still great fun to go out and fly everyday and hold myself to the kind of standards I had the honor of seeing you maintain!

  • Richard, good call, and thanks for the sage advice and wisdom over the years. Keep up the stories and the sharing of knowledge; you made it “around the pattern” of life and all of us who fly can benefit from your experience. Best wishes sir…

  • Each of us is a unique individual example of a person.
    At 76 I still feel I have many years left of competent and joyus flying. Time will tell.

    Warm regards,

    Paul Richardson (Fire Horse)

  • Richard,

    I appreciate your decision and obviously it was not taken lightly… thank goodness we are not all alike… I also am a 74 year old pilot but I have only been flying for 14 years…and I enjoy all of it’s flavors… I have talked with a number of former pilots and when answering the question…”why don’t you fly anymore?” Many answers are given..but I think the reality is it creates too much in way of “effort”…and as we age, “effort” is harder to come by…

  • Dear Richard,
    From this post I find the opportunity to thank you for all the nice moments that you have offered to me through your DVD courses, and will in the future.
    They are and will be my guidelines.

    Theodore
    Private PIC, and owner of Tb9 Socata
    Mykonos Greece

  • Richard- Thank you for that thoughtful article. I have been flying since 1974 and will be 73 next month. I gave up flying IFR a few years ago when it didn’t feel right, but I still enjoy flying my Cessna 182 on VFR outings, especially to BAJA. Sharing your thoughts about when to quit are very helpful and I will think of your experience when my time comes. Vince Flynn, San Diego

  • Dick:

    I’ve not flown near as many hours as you, but still there is a joy in just flying. I know that it is a challenge to fly single IFR and you could set an age limit on that.

    But I suggest that you move out West where the weather is mostly VFR mostly all the time. There are so many interesting places to fly and you can still enjoy it.

    So what, if you are not on an IFR flight plan with rain blasting on your windscreen. Do you want IFR while you are flying over Canyonlands, or the Sonoran Desert? Hell no! Give your eyes a rest from the fine print of the charts and look out the window and enjoy the feast. Your spirit will be rewarded.

    Don’t throw in the towel just because you feel that you are not the ace that you used to be.

    Jack

  • I also am 74 and I have been a lowly,unchallenged LSA pilot. I let my medical lapse in 2008;I still fly our CTLS well, but unlike Collins I still love flying.I continue to fly as long as I am able to do it well and restrcting myself (our selves)thusly does not seem to be burdensom or somehow “below” his exaulted stature (as Collins seems to imply).

    Nancy and I still fly around the United States, enjoy the sightseeing and challenges that it is flying. Oh yes, I should mention that one the ways I maintain a high proficiency level is to fly practice instrument appraches–I still enjoy flying a really good ILS or VOR approach.

    My bottomline is that Collins can do as he likes, but I do not agree with him!!

    • I hope you fly better than you spell “Doctor”.

      Trust me, Richard Collins still “loves flying”. Hats off to Richard who has chosen to gracefully exit his profession at the top, utilizing the good judgment he has acquired over his many years as a consummate professional. I grew up reading and learning from R.L.Collins beginning at age 15. I am now 54 and I plan to vacate my left seat on the B-777 at age 60. Despite the increase in the mandatory retirement age of airline pilots from 60 to 65, I will exit the airline at 60 (I owe it to the career progression of those coming up on the seniority list behind me), and enjoy a few good years enjoying GA with my wife and my sons. When my age and my skills tell me it is time, I will also hang up my GA hat, but like Richard….I will always “love flying”. Richard, all the best to you as you continue to lead by example. Cheers, TK

  • Richard, I’m a fairly new pilot I suppose (PPL in 2005), but I quickly realized that I wanted to read anything you’ve written. You may have hung up your headset so to speak, but please keep writing! You have taught me about the joy that comes from proficiency in addition to the joy of flight. I have the Air Facts from Sporty’s on my iPad that I watch over and over. Eventually I’ll get the hang of this weather stuff, but your enthusiasm as a self-described weather geek has rubbed off on me. Best wishes this Christmas to you and yours.

  • Know when to say when. We lost a family member a while ago who was in his 70’s when his Aerostar piled in full throttle after what was apparently a vertical stall shortly after takeoff. He had a medical episode is the examiners best guess. Sometimes it’s best to throttle back as time goes on.

  • Much of what I am as a pilot today is a result of Dick and his wise and practical advice. Unfortunately, I think he will stop flying for the same reasons so many are leaving aviation today: we simply cannot afford the new aircraft, avionics and fuel!

  • Flying and Richard Collins have been part of my life since 1967. I’ve missed Collins’ writing in Flying, and happy for the blog. His experiences and knowledge need to be shared with pilots of all ages and competency. At 68, with 3000hrs I became a CFI, at 70 a CFII in order to continue to enjoy flight and share it with others. I too stay home on days I probably would have flown 20 years ago, and that’s with far more information to draw upon for a safe flight. We all need to know our limits. Richard’s must be respected. I hope aviation continues to be an important part of your life and you’ll continue to share it with the rest of us.

    • That was a very thoughtful story by Richard Collins because it applies to all those who love flying but are not really sure when the time has come to pull the plug so to speak. I still have a letter from an instructor I had on the 737 who was on Guadalcanal during the Pacific war. During the latter half of the war he flew Martin Mariners and Catalina’s. After the war he flew DC3’s in the Arctic Circle , then among many other flying jobs became the chief 737 instructor at Boeing Seattle. He joined my company Air Nauru in 1977 to fly 737’s in the South Pacific until retiring at the age of 60. He went to South Africa where he flew the Cessna 206 on safari tours. In his last letter to me when he was 70 he said “In 1992 I decided there wasn’t enough flying to stay in even minimum proficiency. You can tell when you are getting sloppy and have to work hard on an instrument approach, even though we had the GPS for about a year. So I decided it was time to quit, so retired from flying. I figured I had had a full career of it -turned out to be just fifty years from the first time that I was in a plane and got the bug to fly.”
      His name was Joe Zizkovsky and Joe quietly passed away a few months later.

  • I thank Richard Collins for his years of flying and services to other pilots. As an older pilot I will say that I fly for the sheer “joy” it brings. I do not agree that light aircraft should allowed to fly in IMC.
    I am currently flying a biplane homebuilt and have a two-seater because when I get a “little” bit older and perhaps fail a medical or decide I am too old to fly, I will always be able to find someone else to fly me around in this delightful open-cockpit machine. I also know that if the pilot has a “cerebral incident” this passenger will make a pretty good “pinch hitter” and get the aircraft down in reasonable fashion.
    I am a VFR man and have studied instrument flight, but it is not “my” cup of tea.
    On a personal note to Richard, I suggest he re-discover flying and forget about “black boxes” and return to flying for the absolute joy of it. Many who are absolutely “wed” to the instruments have not -perhaps never have – known what they have been missing.
    Richard can always invite a fellow pilot to go with him …assuredly said pilot would feel honoured!
    “Flight for Flight’s Sake”!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Richard ,
    Get your Head outa the Cockpit ! Go get a Cub or Similar Low and Slow Bird … Enjoy Flying as it was ment to be !! LOOK at The Scenery !! Smell the corn growing ,fresh cut hay !Enyoy the Laid Back part of Aviating.

  • Been reading your columns since “Flying” mag days. I was blessed with 44 years of making a living doing what I would have done for free if I were independently wealthy. 20,000 hours and some change with over 10K in Learjets. Three years ago I hung it up. I had health problems on the horizon, living on other people’s schedule for nearly half a century, plus mainly, the aircraft had changed from being a “body part” to a machine you actually had to fly and think about what you were mechanically doing. This all entered into my decision to bring it to a end. I have never felt bad about it or it being the wrong decision. I brought it to an end with the small vanity of walking away, rather than being told to stay away. God Speed the “young blood.” So far as the IFR rating, even if you never go into a cloud, it will make you a better pilot. The instruments tell you where the aircraft is going to be. Your eyeballs and the seat of your pants tell you where you are. Much better to know whats going to happen.

  • As usual, a good thoughtful article from Dick. I have to wonder though if need has more to do with the decision to stop flying than anything else. In Dick’s case, he has always flown regularily in the course of his profession, and when retirement occurred, so did the need to fly. Will he stop driving upon completion of a good drive in the country? Probably not, more likely after the need to drive to the store is gone or a crash occurs.

    Most of us do not fly for a well defined professional need but for other, less tangible reasons. The decision to stop, in these cases, should be based upon a recognized danger to others(if not economics). Indeed, our laws allow us to fly gliders, parachutes, ultralights and LSAs, which present a pretty low risk to others in the air and on the ground, as long as we feel able. I don’t think this is unreasonable and allows a good option for those of us who fly to live as opposed to flying for a living.

  • Dick, well thought out and analyzed, but you are going to stop doing what you love and paid the bills for so many years? I don’t see it. I, too, dont fly the hard IFR stuff anymore. I dont have the “got to’s”, that I had a a younger man. However, I am still current, received 2 new ratings this year, and will continue to fly until the I feel that I am unfit to do so. As they say, “Come on man”, get back in the left seat just for the fun of it.

  • Dick, read the Killing Zone while getting my PPL in 2004, which made me realize that 25-30 hours with an instructor wasn’t enough. Went on to get my IFR, then my commercial rating – for the simply reason that after reading your book, the only way to emerge from the zone is to get a lot more training – yes, cost me a lot but I’m certainly more aware of my shortcomings and PM’s. The good news, I think I know my limits, but without someone like you writing about life’s transition, will we really understand when it’s time to relinquish what has taken a lifetime to enjoy? Likely not, wisdom comes in many ways, I hope you continue to share the wisdom accumulated over the 74 years – some say it’s the last 20 that are the most valuable, and you’ve certainly proven it. Thank you for your contributions to safe flying.

  • “Come on man” I don’t believe it. I use to gas up Romeo/Charlie in the late 60 at North Little Rock Aviation. There’s an excuse in the wood pile somewhere.

    • Hi Joe: When you used to gas 40RC, I had places to go and things to do. Not much now. As for an excuse somewhere it’s all in the article. For over 50 years I have been telling the whole story.

      • Learning of your “early” retirement comes at a cogent time for me as I turn 84 this month and consider my own status. As an Arkansan (Dover)I’ve followed much of your fine work over the years and have identified with a few of your flying situations such as the one where you describe in “The Next Hour” a photograpic flight on scud running between Little Rock and Tulsa. Once, with no instrument time, I just “had to get back from Tulsa to Little Rock for work. My only get-out-of-jail-free card was to land on an Arkansas River sand bar as I followed the river religiously—which I was fully prepared to do if necessary. Weather was foggy but stable as reported by Fort Smith and Little Rock. I was never able to get over four or five-hundred feet above ground. Lit Approach literally screamed into my ears “Are you VFR?” as I asked for a special clearance. Talk about a learning experience, nothing close to that happened again VFR. It was grossly bad judgment. I started this note to reminisce about losing a propeller just after takeoff on the north runway at North Little Rock. At that time there was a big field on Camp Robinson land a ways beyond the thick stand of trees I was over and my only thought was to make that field. The tip came off the wooden prop of the Aeronca Chief and you know what it sounded like. As my wheels would get near the tree-tops I would hit the throttle just enough to stay above them. I expected the engine to come loose every time I did that. In due time I made the field, hitched a ride in a Camp Robinson Jeep, got the mechanic to find another prop, went back and installed it, and flew it out. Incidentally, that failed prop had just been refurbished and varnished—probably just varnished. Enough of this. I still like to fly and hope the FAA approves my current medical application. If not, I’ll be flying dual with somebody in my old 172…at least for a while. My best to you for the future and thanks for the great work you have done for so long.

        • Mr Van Rush; Thank you for a captivating story. I enjoyed it very much. Good luck to you with your medical and “good flyin,” sir.

  • Looking at the comments, seems about everything has been said, but I’ll add some of my own. I’m getting close to being one of those 12,500 old pilots, been flying almost 50 years. Only pvt., instrument rated. Days of hard IFR flying are over, now mostly VFR, good weather. Mostly local, take off and land at the same place, poke holes in the sky, some $100 hamburg flights. Just enjoy being up there, looking at the scenery in my 152. Can’t disagree with Dick, that’s his choice. I don’t understand it fully, but I guess I don’t feel the need to be challenged as much as him, when flying?
    I often take up passengers, and through the years have passed on the love of flying to some, although I am not an instructor. Son, a couple grandkids, a few of the neighborhood kids (one a topnotch Air Force fighter jock, another a captain for a major carrier, and a couple of pvt. pilots). Small stuff, will never compare with what Dick has done in aviation. I think he’s going to take up golf, that’s a challenge. Good luck.

      • Richard,I’ve been reading your great words of wisdom since ’71 when I got my privite,only VFR nowadays ,still enjoying it,especially here in southern Utah with about 330 clear sky days a year.thanks for all you’ve done to make flying safer for 1000’s of us pilots,I’ll continue to enjoy reading your blog,regards,John

  • Thank you very much Mr. Collins for all you have taught me. My reasons for flying are different from those mentioned above. This coming April I will be 72 and have been flying since 1970. Flying the same 1966 model Cessna 180H since 1976. From the mountains of western Mexico to the Honduran rain forest carrying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our landing strips are short, crooked and rough but through it all I have been vividly aware that I fly “under His wings”. I think that the most important considerations about when to stop flying should be (1) purpose, (2) general health and (3) local conditions. It is the third that concerns me. Flying into remote areas in Mexico and Central America today, presents an altogether different challenge that we have not faced before. Mr. Collins, I don’t know if you are a man of Biblical faith or not. If you are, your prayers would be deeply appreciated.

  • I was sorry to see you stop writing for FLYING but at a year behind you, I understand. I don’t even like to drive at nite anymore so flying is gone altho I still like to any and all planes. I went back to my ham radio. All the best and Merry Christmas

  • I’ve always enjoyed your writings for many decades. Be glad your health is so good.

    My dad is 82, and ran a 23-mile marathon last week. Or he ran 20 miles then fell down. Then got lost in a ladies locker room. Then got home and passed out standing up (fell down again).

    Me and my sister refused to fly with him for the past decade or more. Almost been killed too many times, but he used to be a very good pilot, 10,000 hours. Actually, we refuse to drive with him too, and now he blacks out and crashes. Or get into business with him. He used to sell Columbias, now the IRS wants all his assets on a golden platter. There goes the inheritance.

    But at least he’s not confined to a wheelchair like my 72-year-old mom.

    Some of us are not so lucky to be able to fly, and must settle for building a Lancair turbine and grease monkey on supersonic babykillers. Not so much fun.

    My uncle was filled with cannon holes and shot down on a B17, surviving Nazi POW camp, death march and FDR giving 50,000 POWs to Commie Russia. After the Allied airlift from the Polish death camp, he never flew again. But he did rep all POWs at the White House for the postage stamp ceremony, which helped get his daughter appointed to a supreme court judgeship.

    Flying Addiction Syndrome…some survive it, some don’t. Some win the lottery, some don’t. But spectating isn’t so bad either.

  • Richard,
    Thanks for posting your comments.

    While we can learn from your comments and articles, there’s a lot of us that may not agree with them. I’m one of them. However, they do give food for thought and make for good internet discussion.

    I’ll retire from flying when I’m ready, and I’m sure I’ll be far from “on top”, however I’ll be at a point where the flying reaches a point where I’m no longer safe or satisfied with the activity. Heck, I’ve already started to slow down a bit, but a long way from quitting and quite frankly, my idol is John Miller who was flying fine at 100 years young.

    To each his own……

  • Hi Richard,I have been reading “Flying the Weather Map” for at least 20 years, every winter period, and I still don’t get it. I keep it at the bedside for convenient study.It was a shock when you hung up your headset but made me stop and re-evaluate my own situation. I live in the UK and the weather patterns are similar to the USA but different enough that I could not relate a lot of your advice in the book. I am approaching 70, have had an instument rating for 25 years and the same instructor. He announced he was letting his Instrument Examiner Rating lapse this year. When I asked why he said because I am 84 and its time. Anyhow enough of my ramble. Thanks for all the advice of yours that I own, and I hope you can still write for us pilots that need help.

  • I am only 58, but can only hope that I will have the wisdom to know when to hang it up. In 14000 hrs. without bending any metal,or breaking any bones, I feel that the time is fast approaching to quit while ahead.
    Richard has always has had my highest respect as a pilot, and I really miss his articles. May you have fair skies and tailwinds….

  • I too have been flying since 17, with over 15,000 hours, I too no longer fly, not by choice, not because of a medical condition, but because an idiot at the FAA misread my ECG, 2 cardiologist and one auto-read ECG confirm that FAA was wrong, then requested 12 thousand dollars worth of tests, that I cannot afford. Richard, I have respected you and your efforts for GA for years, but why you would chose to quit like this totally amazes and confuses me.

  • Thanks Dick for sharing a very personal and thoughtful experience with us. I am a strong believer that no matter how old or how experienced we are all students of aviation. I can only hope to achieve a portion of the knowledge you have shared with us all over the years.

  • Dick; Thanks for all that you have contributed to aviation. I enjoyed reading your articles over the years. (20) years ago I was working on my IFR rating when I thought that I might get into aviation as a career, life took a different turn for me and I ended up not flying for over (9) years. A couple of years ago I got back into flying afer a friend of mine took me to Oshkosh, That lit the fire, I went home bought an airplane (a 46′ Luscombe) and have never regretted it. My new motto is “I don’t fly any farther than I can walk back in a day “. Dick the decision will of course be yours, but there is life after IFR!

  • Dear Richard, After reading “On Top”, I must say you have a huge
    following and are an icon for all pilots, especially the older ones like me, soloed Rose Valley 1964. Knowing your limitations is the name of
    the game, so you adjust. My bet is you’ll continue to fly. Its in Your
    blood. Mine too.

  • Mr. Collins, your decision is yours. I am a new pilot.(2007) I am currently moving into a light twin and am in the process of getting my instrument rating.I hope you keep writing! I do enjoy your experiences and hope someday I will gain some of the knowledge and professionalism you have sir.

  • Great article, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your advice during (and after) my training. I’m finally a pilot, a goal I’ve had since my uncle took me flying 35 years ago. He flew VFR his entire career, being a farmer first and pilot second – but as he told me, he farmed to support his flying habit.

    May you have a long and joyful retirement, and please continue sharing your stories!

  • I can’t imagine not flying. I suppose the day will come soon (I am 56), but I will continue as long as I am able. Started at age 12, soloed on 16th birthday, bought a Stearman 15 years ago and still enjoy watching the sun set through the struts and wires. That is…when I can afford to gas it up! The cost is probably what will get me, but I can always scale back.

  • It was a tough decision when I decided to hang up my headset. I had not flown for a few years after over 37 years of VFR flying due to various medical problems.I considered renewing my medical and getting some training to get up to speed , I hit the books etc and found that I was far more out of touch than I had imagined so at 79 I decided that I should quit while I was ahead ,I love flying and have enjoyed reading your articles. May you enjoy your happy memories of flying.
    Regards
    Bill Larkin Australia

  • Hi Richard,

    I miss your writing at Flying. I questioned why you did not follow the exodus to EAA’s mags like so many of your talented former colleagues. At 50 years of age and 21 plus years of flying with a license, I have just started a kit plane after many years of plans building without completion. At the cross roads in the building of doing the LSA VS 3rd class medical requirement for the kit, it is good to read you insights. Thank you again and good wishes in the new year to your family of flying folks.

  • Hi Richard,

    Ever since I was a teenager,(i got my Pilot license on 7/17/1994), I’ve been reading your articles inside the magazines floating around the USA today. I always loved your honesty and the fact that you go straight to the point. Today I’m 38 years old a father of to future pilots and I’m seeking to purchase my first airplane, perhaps I might be able to pick up an airplane from some retire pilot, I don’t know, but why I do know is that thanks to you I continue to love aviation and I do appreciate everything you did for the GA.

    Thank you,
    Ed

  • Mr Collins,
    Just thank you for many years of informative information, Videos, Books and knowledge. I know I am
    a better airman because of you.

  • Richard, I am cleaning up emails as a New Year’s Resolution! I really wanted to respond to your thoughtful comments about when to quit. You have helped me get more comfortable with having quit “cold turkey” as you did. I did not want to fly unless I was current and competent in the soup, and could not see flying enough to do that.
    I made it just past my 79th birthday in our TBM 700, but knew it was time. Then the new insurance quote made it clear! They would not sell me adwauate liability at any price. On my last visit to SimCom my instructor said, “Fred, you are the best TBM pilot your age I have trained.” I said, “How many others are there?” He said, “One!”
    My son loves flying as much as I did and I love riding shotgun with him at every opportunity.
    It was a great run, as I know it was for you.
    Regards,
    Fred

  • Good evening, sir;
    I have enjoyed your comments to and influence on the general aviation world since my tour as a CFI/ aviation professor @ Ole Miss (1964/1965), subsequent
    work as an Ag pilot in the Mississippi delta; corporate pilot for a very large agricultural entity; and greatly decreased hours aloft as college financial demands, age, and lack of suitable airframe merged. The photo of you and your spouse having a puff break in the presence of your PA-20 brought back pleasant memories of afternoon juants to Mississippi River sandbars, via J-3 Cubs, accompanied by “delta darlings” and, for non-pilots, ice chests filled with “adult beverages”.

    Respectfully,
    Andrew Wargo III
    FIAI 1476265

  • A legend, quitting. Not for a second do I believe that Richard Collins will never fly again. Maybe not weather flying, but still up in the air. The Richard Collins who was instrumental to me obtaining my private loved flying, lived for flying, and was a teacher. Darius A. Marzec
    PA-28, Miller PA-30C

  • I understand your enjoyment of the challenge of IFR in weather, but can’t help thinking that you must be missing the simple pleasures of daylight VFR in a simple plane. I have just turned 60 after 28 years of practising that in France and the USA and would humbly think that if I had a current medical at your age I would prefer to get off the ground on a sunny day.
    Thank you for all the wisdom you have imparted — and encouragement you gave me in my early flying. I look forward to continuing to read you.

    Charles Bremner
    Robin 1180-‘Aiglon’, Paris, France

  • As a 71 y.o. IFR-rated pilot (2200 hr), I appreciated this thoughtful article on a subject I’ve been considering this year. Though my health seems generally good (no meds), I’ve noticed some slippage in ability to maintain an intense focus on detail for a protracted number of hours. I chose to let my IFR currency lapse this year. One thing I continue to love to do is relatively short cross countries with my partner in the Cessna 170 we own. On one occasion, he became incapacitated while PIC, and I got us “home” flying from the right seat. It’s comforting to know he could do the same for me. We also pretty regularly critique each other’s flying – in a way that promotes safety, pointing-out traffic, asking occasionally, “If the engine failed now, where would you put it?”
    This past summer, I decided to get my glider rating, and was very pleased with the experience. It was very stimulating to find it SO VERY DIFFERENT from flying the C-170. Switching back and forth BETWEEN these two types of aircraft is also quite mentally challenging. After landing a Schweizer 1-26 (which feels like it burrows THROUGH the grass compared to the 170), it takes great self-restraint not to go seeking the same landing “sight picture” in the 170 (which would result in an enormous bounce).
    Also worthy of note, is that I’m noticing I’m enjoying the social side of flying more, sharing virtually all my 170 flying time with my partner, and sharing the gliding/sailplaning experience with the other members of the gliding club. Flying single-engine IFR provided a different and rewarding kind of challenge, but was also usually a solitary one.

  • Richard,

    Good to read you again; always a pleasure.
    As for me, I never had much call to fly IFR, starting off as a military version of a bush pilot. Now I enjoy the peace and beauty of glider flying, sharing in a Pilatus B4.

    However, having seen some pilots flying long after they should have quit, I agree completely with your decision, one I will have to make eventually. But, hopefully, not for a decade or so.

    Cheers

  • Richard,although I have never held an instrument ticket,I think I have every back issue of Flying and every book you have written since 1968.At age 69 I enjoy flying now more than anytime in my life,probably because the pressure of being somewhere at a specific time is gone.No more get home itis.At any rate,I have always enjoyed your writing and hope to see more of it.

  • Richard,Thank You, your sensible,logical and Professional advice given on every article and book you have written,has made me a safer Pilot during my 36 years of flying, (I’m 58 now)the last 23 as a Law Enforcement Pilot, both fixed wing and rotorcraft.Again,Thank You. JJ

  • Richard, we have never meet, though you were an integral and formative part of my early flying, I started my habit in 1971..read the 1972 and 1974 Instrument Flying and your books cover to cover, many times. You should be proud of your important role in GA safety..providing apprenticeship like advise when we did not have any other place to turn. Air Facts is just another example of your offering to us out on that wet dreary flight line..alone with decision making, with no copilot, or flight office to help with decisions. Thank You so very much!! I am safer because of you. My early days of instrument flying included a final check list item…wwrcd..thanks richard.

    Great thoughtful article, good luck and Godspeed… Dick Rieck

  • I started flying around the airport on a clear day when there wasn’t too much wind 70+ years ago. I have logged 28,500 military and airline hours plus who knows how many civilian hours. I ended up flying around the airport on a clear day when there wasn’t too much wind shooting landings; at least once a week, and enjoying the hell out of it. I didn’t quit. Money gounded me. Keep on keeping on. You don’t need to “challenge” weather to enjoy flying. Pick those good days to fly around the County in. When that becomes a challenge it’s time to quit.

  • Richard, Thanks for your article “Going Out On Top”. On May 4, 2012 I will turn 70. I have flown since my sixteenth birthday and have filled several logbooks. My aviation experience was as a bush pilot in the Southwest and in Mexico, on demand charter, and several years flying checks out of Dallas Love Field. For years I was no stranger to hard single pilot night IFR and enjoyed the challenge. For various reasons I quit flying all the time and realized after a while that I had lost the razor edge that I once had. So I also have decided not to fly as pilot in command anymore. Even though I now have my health and eyesight back I have elected to not renew my medical.
    So, I guess it’s time to write my memoirs. Thank you for your many years of enjoyable writing.

  • I have never forgotten your father’s article about teaching you not to over-control the plane. I still think to myself, do it “sneaky” rather than “smoothly.”

  • I know you speak a lot about weather, in which I am extremely interested. Which weather books do you recommend that will help a novice pilot gain the most knowledge from. There are so many out there!

    • Hi James:

      Asking an author to recommend books is fraught with peril. Of course I would recommend mine but I would also recommend all the weather titles available from Sporty’s, especially Bob Buck’s “Weather Flying.”

  • You know, as I read this post, I actually began to envision how my career should wind down. I still have 20 more years to go flying jets and teaching other how to fly. I look back on the last 20 years of my professional aviation career and feel truly blessed with all the wonderful people I have shared the cockpit with, the amazing destinations I arrive at, and the many more adventures that are going to be enjoyed. Mr. Collins, I have truly enjoyed your teachings over the years. I never hand the pleasure of shaking your hand and wish I had, but it is aviators like you that always inspired me to want more, be more, and do more.

  • I’m now 82-years old and have about 20,000 safe flying hours in my many log books. More than 18,000 of those hours were earned the hard way, as an Alaska bush pilot. In those days, flying every day for weeks, sometimes months, on end kept the thin edge-of-abilities keenly sharpened. I came quickly to realize that a three-day layoff robbed me of just a little of the sharp edge of airplane command. Now, with my flying time dramatically reduced, I’m certainly not equipped to fly as I once did. My excellent vision and good health remain, but my skill level has dropped considerably, and I know it. I know,too, exactly what you are saying. I admire your wisdon to realize it. Thanks for your incredible contribution to us all.

  • Reading this in retrospect is interesting. Richard Collins probably saved more lives than could ever be counted, by his written words, instructing and by example. Even at my age, I’ve come to realize that we can’t carry all of our activities with us throughout life.

    One of the finest flight instructors ever was Johnnie Smith, a man that started out as a jazz guitarist, one of the best ever, but chose flight instruction over playing music. For him, it was the right choice and as I understand it, he flew well into advanced age.

    Mr. Collins made the choice that was right for him and I applaud his decision. When I reached a point where circumstances prevented me from being able to fly at least twice a week, my personal standard, I felt that it was no longer safe for me to fly, so I quit. No regrets whatsoever.

    Even now, Collins’ will continue saving lives with the long term benefits of what he has taught others.

    • Ahhh Mark S, So you’re the reason why this article showed up in my feed this evening! Great post man. And this was a great article. So Sad for his passing in April. It’s so sad to see so many older pilots that end up on Kathryn’s report, with either a couple hundred or tens of thousands of hours of flight time. I get it. Probably one of the toughest life lessons to endure, is to hang it up. To me it would feel like dying prematurely. Then again there’s always fishing… which is always fun, relaxing, and no drama.

      • IMO, he did it right. He was professional in his flying and called it quits with grace and dignity. He is missed.

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